Why women should rethink their inheritance?

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women’s inheritance rights

India since independence has introduced several such policies that aim to improve the position of women in the society who are desirably not only in equity as compared to men but also on efficiency grounds. While many countries are working cohesively to improve economic opportunities for women, inheritance laws remain strongly biased against women in many parts of the country. And since the distribution of wealth is not equal between men and women, their economic equality continues to suffer. This might not be the case with every individual, but a majority of them face disparity on several levels when the inheritance is not provided. Thus, inheritance plays a very important role especially for women who face discrimination firsthand.

Parental bequests of material wealth and human capital investments represent the very basic long-term investment for females who don’t have any other source of income. At a very basic level, the land is a key asset and an essential source of livelihood. But the question remains, why do women do not have an equal share in inheritance despite the law?

Legislative reform to improve women’s inheritance rights in India is there for decades yet the ground reality remained unbothered.

Many women in India do not know about their succession rights and even those who know- willingly choose not to take any in order to maintain relations with their natal family. In 2016, a stunning case from Rajasthan gained light. K. Bina Devi and her sister were called to a living room of their house and made to sign papers giving up their inheritance share to their brothers. The acts were witnessed by all family members and villagers as if it was some kind of a celebration. Sweets were distributed and the sister was even congratulated. This is a custom known as “haq tyag” in Rajasthan where daughters are made to sign legal agreements denying their share in inheritance.

women’s inheritance rights

But is this law? Many women in India do not know about their inheritance rights. One in every four women does not know they have the right to inherit their family land and the majority of them don’t know about the basic details. Astonishingly, an overwhelming percent of men in India are well aware of their inheritance rights since a young age. The Hindu Succession Act 1956, was enacted to amend and codify the law relating to intestate or unwilled succession, among Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs. The law does not apply in both testamentary or intestate succession of Muslims. For Muslims, succession is based on the Quran.

It was provided in the act that daughters and sons would get equally from their father’s self-acquired property. This, of course, should have made difference but it didn’t. People continued manipulating uneducated women and forcing the educated ones to give up their share. As a matter of fact, women too were not willing to assert. There were several such cased reported where women by their own will does not demand their share. The reason? The majority of them said the reason behind it was not spoil relations with their brothers or parents.

Additionally in 2005, the daughter’s rights of inheritance have been widened, the law does not only include the father’s self-acquired property but also the ancestral property unless the father wills it to someone else. But yet, many women are not aware of it. Most societies in the country are governed by personal laws in certain matters including inheritance. Though the Hindus come under the act of 1956, Christians and Parsis are governed by the Indian Succession Act, 1925 and the property rights of Muslims are yet to be codified.

According to Muslim personal law, women are granted the right to inheritance. A daughter’s share in inheritance is equal to one-half of her brother’s share of their father’s property. But a daughter also has full control over her share of the property and has the legal right to control, manage and dispose of her share according to her own wish. But a survey concluded that many Muslims since childhood are taught not to demand their share as their real belongings reside with their husbands. As for divorced women, they have the right to inheritance to the extent of one-fourth when there are no kids, and if there are kids, then to the extent of one-eighth. Along with this, there are several provisions supporting women’s right to inheritance yet it hadn’t made much difference.

For Christians and Parsis, their right to inheritance lies under the Indian Succession Act, 1925, sections 31 to 49. Under the act, the children inherit equal share irrespective of gender. A daughter inherits equally with any brothers in her father’s or mother’s estate. As for a widow, if there are no kindred alive, the whole property belongs to her but in case of having kindreds, then she will get one-half share in her husband’s estate. While in the case of having kids, the widow will receive one-third share. But this right is not exclusive and gets weaker when heirs step in.

women’s inheritance rights

Yet, despite having inheritance laws in every religion- why do women still not receive their share? What can be done?

The only answer to the above question are two things- Aware and Assert. Women should raise voices and be aware of the basic rights they have. They should not let others control or dictate their limits. Women should understand that society will never change, there is still a long way for Indians to change their deeply rooted prejudice against women. From time again time, women will continue facing discrimination and this will only get worse if they don’t retaliate. Demand your share not because you need it, but because it is your right. Because a daughter is as equal to their parents as their sons.

With demand, strive to assert. Try to fight for your rights and do not worry about how your brothers would feel, because if you observe closely- those brothers if had loved you wouldn’t ever let you sacrifice your share for them. Demanding your rights does not mean being greedy, in fact, it paves way for future generations to be more equal because time is only going to be harder. Gender-neutral inheritance laws and increased awareness is the need of the hour.

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